On the internet,
nobody knows you’re a machine

We built a robot to help you win The New Yorker’s cartoon caption contest

By Michael Zelenko | Developed by Frank Bi

In one of Seinfeld’s last episodes, Elaine and Jerry sit in their favorite diner. Elaine pulls out a copy of The New Yorker, points to a cartoon and says, "I don't get this." "Me neither," Jerry says after some inspection. "And you’re on the fringe of the humor business!" Elaine exclaims.

In the cartoon, a dog and a cat are in an office. The cat is saying, "I’ve enjoyed reading your email." Though we never see the cartoon in question, for anyone familiar with The New Yorker cartoons, it’s easy enough to imagine. The caption is quintessential New Yorker — at once disarmingly simple and obstinately urbane; a neatly packaged gauge of a reader’s familiarity with the mores and concerns of the cultural elite.

Each week The New Yorker runs a cartoon contest on its back page, where the publication invites readers to submit captions to cartoons drawn by the magazine’s illustrators. Winning the contest is notoriously difficult — writers have to generate a quip that’s funny, but also perfectly mimics the magazine’s sensibilities. A deep knowledge of The New Yorker is a prerequisite. Or is it?

We’ve collected all the first, second, and third place winning entries going back to when the magazine introduced the competition in 2005 — all 1,425 of them. Then, we ran them through a Markov text generator program that analyzes the winning captions and generates new, randomized entries that echo the original set.

Below, you’ll find the cartoon for this week’s New Yorker caption contest. Generate a caption as many times as you’d like — then, submit it to The New Yorker. We’ll be pulling the latest cartoon each week, so if you don’t win this time, come back and try again next week. Oh, and if you don’t get the caption you’ve generated, don’t worry. You’re in good company.

* *

Edited by Josh Dzieza